By Jamie Walker, Campaigner and SNP Member
I have long held the view since a very young age that the ability to be involved in politics – whether within a party, charitable organisation or even as a single cause – is a noble endeavour. To put in simply, politics, despite all the negative press and connotations, is a force for change, good and peace. When politics is grounded in solidarity and inclusion it can be effective and progressive. That is why it should be open and accessible to all regardless of class, sex, race or disability.
Over the last 4 years of my life I have slowly come to terms with my own disability and the strains and limitations that it has placed upon me. For as long as I can recall I have suffered from anxiety disorder. In my younger days I didn’t understand what was going on, why I panicked so badly or why I became stressed or worried in situations in school or even with friends. As I grew older it was only then I began to understand the extent of my anxiety. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. As when any family members is ill the only priority in your life is to care for them and to love them. Before her death in 2010 she said to my to keep looking straight ahead and “keep on going”. I may have taken that advice far, far to literally. I bottled every emotion up and that meant bottling up the increasing anxiety I was suffering. After failing to mourn I suffered from dreams whereby I would be crying uncontrollably at my mother’s graveside, yet I would never cry in public. I did not want to lose control of myself and expose my frailties to friends, family or even myself. Then a year later my Gran died and then the emotions and anxiety which I had kept hidden revealed themselves in a very long depression, the effects of which I still suffer till this day. Like many in this position I self-harmed and contemplated suicide however through a combination of therapy and later medication I managed to get better just in time for accepting a place at Stirling University to study Law and Politics.
University has presented its own set of challenges however most of them have not been detrimental to my own health. I have immensely enjoyed university. I met some great people and made life long friends. I believe I have matured from the boy I was at high school because of the experiences I have had: paying bills, renting a flat, balancing personal budgets etc. However university has not been without its own set of challenges. I have suffered relapses of anxiety and depression throughout my time at university which have made life difficult. Stress about exams and money and indeed about the wellbeing of my own family when living away from them worsened my anxiety and it became dangerous. I would lock myself in my room for days on end, not eating, on many occasions self-harming and once again contemplating suicide. However on these occasions I would abuse alcohol. I was unable to socialise and became extremely paranoid about my appearance or what others were thinking. I struggled to make it to class, perform well in assignments or even do things I enjoyed. Since my mother died I have been a Scottish Campaigns Ambassador for Cancer Research UK. When I went to university I co-founded the Stirling University Students Against Cancer Society in my first-year, which was very successful in fundraising efforts, campaigning and partnerships with other charities. I was the President however due to my anxiety and depression I could not fulfil my role and had to stand down however the Society disbanded soon after.
As a result, quite regularly, I am felt with the feeling of failure and regret. The feeling that no matter how hard I try I will fail to live up to the expectations I have set myself and the expectations of the job I find myself in. To deal with these episodes I have taken medication once again, gone to counselling and now have a mental health tutor who has helped me keep on top of coursework and balance the day to day expectations of university. However most of the time we normally chat about politics which is a therapy in itself. I am functioning now. I am sociable and no longer doing silly things.
I know I am not the only one to feel like this. My experiences have served as an education about the stigma attached to mental health disability, the causes of mental ill-health and how far we as a country need to go. As our organisation says One in Five people in Scotland will suffer from one form of disability in their lifetime. In relation to mental health, according to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that 83 million people across Europe suffer from mental health disability mostly anxiety and depression. As pointed out in earlier articles by other Ambassadors for One in Five, Scots living in more deprived areas are more likely to suffer from mental ill-health than those in more affluent areas. In an Audit Scotland report in 2012, women consulting a GP about anxiety was twice that compared to men. Suicide in men is three times higher than that of women and again in correlates with deprived areas. Furthermore, alcohol abuse and drug abuse excaudate mental health issues as well as inequalities. Alcohol abuse is twice higher in men than women and alcohol related deaths are seven times higher in the most deprived areas. It is quite clear that inequality is a burden on our society and should serve as a reminder of how far we need to go to create a better future for Scotland. We need to continue to ensure that organisations who provide support to individuals and families are continually supported and that individuals themselves are supported emotionally, medically, socially and financially. We should also be supported politically.
When I first heard of the One in Five organisation it felt like I could have a voice to address the issues I have experienced and address the challenges that we need to overcome. If we are to achieve a truly equal country then we need to engage and involve those who struggle to become involved through no fault of their own. All parties, their members and their branches need to sign the One in Five Charter. They need to make their branches more accessible and their roles more inclusive and tailored to meet the needs of the occupant so that those with disabilities are able to achieve and succeed in the role. I support and advocate for the idea that branch roles should be open to job sharing. This would ensure that the demands of roles are achievable and that the strain placed on people can be shared so the burden does not fall upon the one person which can make life difficult and stressful. Since joining the SNP my branch in the City of Stirling has made itself open and accessible to all members. It always holds meetings venues which have appropriate facilities for wheelchair use as well as access to lifts and assistance. Recently as last week the branch signed up with acclaim to the One in Five Charter and I am excited to help make changes so the branch can continue to be welcoming and accessible to all.
A final important point I wish to stress can for many people be a difficult one. I believe we can all take a lesson from author John Green and from many others. The stigma that surrounds mental illness and disability will not go away until we all stand up to it, be honest and talk openly about or experiences. We should not be afraid to talk about our experiences, our issues but also our dreams for the future ahead. So why don’t I start.
Hi my name is Jamie Walker, I am 20 years old and I suffer from anxiety disorder and have suffered from depression. I’ve taken medication and I’ve been to therapy. I have my struggles but I’m functioning and I still dream of a fairer society where all peoples are treated equally and with respect.